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Understanding Stevens-Johnson Syndrome

Written by Berkowitz

Connecticut Medical Malpractice Attorney - Berkowitz and Hanna LLCStevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) is a condition caused by certain medications that affects the skin and mucous membranes. Its severity ranges from flu-like symptoms in the early stages to life-threatening symptoms in the later stages. These may include skin deterioration, sepsis, and death. Because this condition can become quite serious, it should be treated as a medical emergency.

The manufacturer of a drug that triggers SJS may be considered liable for a type of medical malpractice known as failure to warn. Liability may also lie with a doctor who wrongly prescribed a drug that subsequently caused the condition. Also, because of its unpredictable nature, SJS is often initially misdiagnosed.

Manufacturers and distributors of drugs that trigger SJS can be held strictly liable for  defects in the drugs’ manufacturing and design. In addition, if your medications were improperly packaged, advertised, or labeled, you may also be able to pursue a defect claim known as, “failure to warn.” Liability may also lie with a doctor who wrongly prescribes a drug that subsequently causes SJS; and, if your doctor fails to timely diagnose SJS, this may be grounds for you to file a medical malpractice claim as well.

Triggers of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome

Medications that are known to cause SJS include both over-the-counter and prescription drugs:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Naproxen Sodium (Aleve)
  • Anti-gout drugs (Allopurinol)
  • Infection-fighting drugs (Penicillin)
  • Seizure medications
  • Antipsychotics

Certain infections may trigger the syndrome as well, including herpes, pneumonia, hepatitis, and HIV.


Initial signs begin with flu-like symptoms that include fever, sore throat, coughing, and fatigue. Burning eyes may also be an early symptom. As the condition progresses, the following symptoms are also likely:

  • Swelling of the face and/or tongue
  • Skin pain
  • Hives
  • A reddish-purple rash
  • Blisters on the skin
  • Blisters on the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, eyes, and genitals
  • Shedding of the skin

Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis

When Stevens-Johnson Syndrome becomes severe, toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) is likely to follow. TEN is a similar immunological disorder, triggered by the same types of drugs. When blisters spread to over 30 percent of the body after SJS has begun, TEN is often simultaneously diagnosed. Other symptoms include severe peeling of the skin, exposing a red, raw underlayer, similar to burn victims. Irritation and infection of the eyes, mouth, throat, and bronchial area may become exacerbated. SJS and TEN can affect any age, the youngest reported having been just three months old.


  • SJS poses a one to five percent chance of death.
  • Once the severity reaches a TENs diagnosis, the risk of death increases to 25 to 30 percent.
  • Caucasian males between 20 and 50 years of age are most susceptible to SJS.
  • Recovery can last as little as a couple of weeks to months.
  • The ability to control the condition is greatly improved with early diagnosis.
  • The highest number of cases occur in the early spring and winter.
  • Some of the medications with the highest numbers of reported instances of SJS include Celebrex, Dilantin, Motrin, Ibuprofen, Bextra, Sepra, and penicillin.

Berkowitz and Hanna LLC – Connecticut’s Medical Malpractice Lawyers

The unpredictable nature of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome can be terrifying to a victim and his or her family. If you have suffered from SJS as a result of a prescription error, medical malpractice, drug defect, or failure to warn, you may be entitled to compensation. At Berkowitz and Hanna LLC, our experienced legal team will thoroughly evaluate your case to provide the aggressive and effective legal representation you need and deserve. Serving Darien, New Canaan, Ridgefield, and Norwalk, we are here to help. Contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC for a free consultation.